Today is Veterans Day. I’m thinking about Leo Thorsness, the native Minnesotan who served in Vietnam and was awarded the Medal of Honor for one helluva mission he flew in 1967, shortly before he was shot down. Every ounce of the courage he displayed on his Medal of Honor Mission was required to endure his six years of confinement in the Hanoi Hilton and its Heartbreak Hotel section, which the Communists reserved for hard cases like Leo. Leo tells the story in Surviving Hell: A POW’s Journey, a book in which he seeks to turn his experience to helping us survive our own hard times. I wrote about Leo most recently here. Meeting Leo may be the highest of the many highlights I’ve had writing for Power Line.
Yesterday HBO observed Veterans Day by rebroadcasting Band of Brothers, the ten-part series based on Stephen Ambrose’s terrific book of the same name. The book and series tell the story of the last phase of World War II in Europe through the eyes of E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne Division — a unit that served “from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest” (as the book’s subtitle states). The men of E Company served on the front lines in ferocious, almost unimaginably brutal combat over the last twelve months of WW II. Many died, many were horribly injured, some survived.
At the end of the book Ambrose briefly summarizes the postwar lives of those who survived. One of those who survived was Corporal Walter Gordon. Mr. Gordon overcame a paralyzing injury suffered at Bastogne in the Battle of the Bulge. He went on to law school and struck it rich through the exercise of great acumen in the oil business.
In December 1991, Mr. Gordon read that the mayor of Eindhoven, Netherlands had refused to meet with General Schwarzkopf because, as general of the forces that served in the Gulf War, General Schwarzkopf “had too much blood on his hands.” Ambrose recounts that Gordon wrote to the mayor of Eindhoven:
On September 17, 1944 I participated in the large airborne operation which was conducted to liberate your country. As a member of company E, 506th PIR [parachute infantry regiment], I landed near the small town of Son. The following day we moved south and liberated Eindhoven. While carrying out our assignment, we suffered casualties. That is war talk for bleeding. We occupied various defense positions for over two months. Like animals, we lived in holes, barns, and as best we could. The weather was cold and wet. In spite of the adverse conditions, we held the ground we had fought so hard to capture.
The citizens of Holland at that time did not share your aversion to bloodshed when the blood being shed was that of the German ocupiers of your city. How soon we forget. History has proven more than once that Holland could again be conquered if your neighbor, the Germans, are having a dull weekend and the golf links are crowded.
Please don’t allow your country to be swallowed up by Liechtenstein or the Vatican as I don’t plan to return. As of now, you are on your own.
A salute to all our veterans today.